It’s inevitable, really. Think about the percentage of people you meet in your life who are actually quirky, interesting and intelligent. Now subtract that number by about a 1,000. That’s the percentage of a chance that a television show will be thoughtful, fun, razor-sharp, wonderfully weird AND stay on television for more than a year. It’s a grim number but think about who we’re doing battle against- people who enjoy watching shows about obese people racing each other, reality dating experiments and serials with the words “Law & Order” in the title. These people outnumber us and they buy more chips. It’s like 300 out there.
So, the rest of us discerning television viewers go through the same ritual over and over again- we watch a show, we get excited, we become far too emotionally attached, it gets canceled, we bemoan television executives and then we blog about it. So, without further ado…
Top Five Fridays presents The Top Five Short-Lived But Brilliant Shows
5. The Loop (2006-2007)
Haven’t heard of The Loop? Well, now that just makes me sad. The good news for YOU is that WB.com airs free episodes online which means you can watch it. Which means I now need to make an obvious joke about you being, you know, “in the loop” now. But I’m not. Instead, I’m going to introduce you to poor Sam Sullivan (Bret Harrison who mastered looking horrified years ago on Grounded For Life and now does it on The Reaper), a young airline executive who works in a world of crazy. Seriously, after watching what goes on all day with this cast of nutjobs, it’ll be a miracle if you ever go up into a plane again.
What’s so great about the show is that the showrunners allowed for improvisation from their players. An awesome idea, especially considering you’ve got outrageously funny people like Philip Baker Hall, Eric Christian Olsen and Mimi Rogers running around.
4. The Collected Works of Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies)
Bryan Fuller is one of my favorite show creators, though I think someone needs to go over there and give the guy a hug at this point, especially since we only recently lost the wonderfully colorful Pushing Daisies (and Lee Pace from popping up on my television screen every week). Fuller has a penchant for bizarre, otherwordly scenarios for his dramas. Wonderfalls finds a bored grad student working a dead-end job as a sales clerk in a Niagra Falls gift shop, where the animal heads and chotchsky toys actually talk to her about saving the world. Dead Like Me, which I only recently discovered on Netflix and now cherish like a long-lost lamb, follows a girl named George who lived a miserable existence on Earth, only to be crushed by a meteor in the pilot episode and joins a group of Grim Reapers (Inigo Montoya, Whitley Gilbert, Antonia Marchette, and Andrew Jacoby) whose job it is to squat in dead people’s apartments, do drugs and get into trouble while they escort dying souls to the Afterlife. And then there’s Pushing Daisies with piemaker Ned (Pace) who has an odd talent of bringing dead things back to life by touching them, complicating matters when he brings his soul mate Chuck back to life but then can’t touch her because if he does, she’ll be dead again. And none of these shows survived than more than one or two seasons. Really, someone give this guy a hug.
3. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Ah, yes. Freaks and Geeks. I want it put on the record that my love for Freaks and Geeks is not recent and not due to our nationwide obsession with Judd Apatow and his crew of hilarious man-babies who flood the cast of this high school comedy-drama. I was, in fact, a proud viewer when the series first aired at the dawn of the new millennium and thoroughly crushed when the show was canceled. Back then, at the ripe old age of eighteen, I went through the usual emotions- fury at the close-minded television executives, fury at the herds of TV-viewing SHEEP who preferred to watch OTHER SHOWS instead, fury at God- the usual. Now though, I can’t help wondering how the show would’ve fared if it had lasted longer. It’s so easy to say that it would’ve stayed as brilliant, poignant and funny (albeit I was cringing the entire time to the point of muscle fatigue) but you just don’t know. Like my No. 2 seed, it’s maintained a kind of iconic air, fed mostly by the short span of its run and the fame we later saw in its cast (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Sweets from Bones).
2. My So-Called Life (1994-1995)
If John Hughes was our teenage voice in the ’80s, then Angela Chase was our girl for the ’90s. So was Rayanne, Ricky, Jordan Catalano, Sharon and poor, sad be-froed Brian Crackow. I can say with absolute certainty that if you’re looking for a video diary of what it’s like to be a teenager, you need only witness every scene where Angela squirms at the dinner table under a curtain of dyed red hair or when she explains how just the sound of her mother’s voice makes her want to scream (it helps how amazingly cast Patty Chase was in Bess Armstrong- the quintessential well-meaning Mom whose patronizing tone really did make us all want to scream).
The show now serves as a kind of mid-90’s time capsule, sure, but it’s also still incredibly resonant. There’s a reason why we miss it, why we refer to it so often and covet our DVD/VHS collections of it.
1. Arrested Development (2003-2006)
Ok, yes Arrested Development made it to three seasons and a little more than 50 episodes. But clearly it felt much shorter than that, given the rabid fan base, the petitions, the movie that gets talked about whenever one or more nerds come together to speak its name. We miss the Bluths, who turned family dysfunction to a spectacular art form. We miss the cast (Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, David Cross, Portia deRossi, Will Arnett and Michael Cera to name a few). We miss Ron Howard’s “Next time” previews. We miss Lucille and Buster and Lucille Two. We miss Steve Holt! My Name is Judge. The chicken dancing- “Has anyone in this family actually ever seen a chicken?” Hell, I even miss the Fake Saddams.